Just background for an idea. Not very well developed yet, but comments would be welcome.
Tangled Web: The Politics of the Terran Federation
It is impossible to understand the current state of the Federation without understanding its history. Put simply, the original Federation accidentally created a political schism between the Inner Worlds, which were highly-populated and safe, and the Outer Worlds, which were under-populated and exposed to pirates, raiders and alien invaders. Worse, because the Federation Government was based on proportional representation, the Outer Worlds found themselves being politically abused by the Inner Worlds. It is quite likely that civil war would have torn the Federation apart if the Long War hadn’t begun.
The Inner Worlds refused to take the Jakarah seriously when they were first encountered, little realising that the frog-like aliens were the masters of a powerful empire. It was only sheer luck that saved outnumbered and outgunned elements of the Federation Navy from a surprise attack – after twenty years of cold war and ‘incidents’ that were smoothed over – when the Frogs finally came over the border. The Frogs had a vastly larger military; thankfully, human technology was advanced enough to hold the line and allow the Federation Navy to regroup. Seventy years of inconclusive fighting followed before the Federation Navy managed to gain the upper hand.
Unfortunately, the Inner Worlds didn’t really take the war seriously. They’d been safe, while the Outer Worlds had been occupied, bombed or outright depopulated by the Frogs. When the Frogs sued for peace, offering honourable terms, the Inner Worlds accepted and demilitarised with indecent haste, despite the naysayers. As it happened, the naysayers were right; the Frogs took four years to regroup and then launched a stunning attack on Earth itself. The Federation Navy was barely able to stem the tide before it was too late.
In the aftermath, the Federation Navy – led by a group of Admirals who felt betrayed by the politicians – launched what was effectively a coup. For the remaining ten years of the Long War, the Junta effectively ruled the Federation. There were some civilian protests, particularly among the Inner World populations, but they were rapidly dispersed. With a unified effort, the Federation Navy overcame the Frogs and eventually defeated them in a final titanic battle over their homeworld. The remaining Frogs surrendered and their planets were placed under permanent interdict.
This raised the question of just where the Federation would go from here. The Junta had always claimed to be an emergency measure; they’d promised to resign once the war was over. However, the old political model had led the Federation to the brink of civil war – and then total defeat in the Long War. Their solution to this problem was to resurrect the Federation Congress and Senate, but to insist that only those who had served in the military were to be given the vote. Proportionally speaking, the Outer Worlds – which had a high percentage of military veterans – suddenly held the whip had over the Inner Worlds.
Matters were complicated by the early precedents. Those who were elected into political power in Congress were not veterans, so much as they were in the reserves. Many Senators were automatically enrolled in the Senate when they’d reached flag rank. Naturally, while the old political parties no longer existed, new ones formed up around senior flag officers. An Admiral could use his rank on behalf of his clients; his clients, in turn, were expected to support him in the Senate (or Congress, if they were elected there.) And, if an Admiral was in the Senate, he could lobby for command of any future campaigns.
What this meant for the Federation was that its new ruling class had a strong motive to seek wars, which they could use as a chance to boost their own standing. The next hundred years saw upwards of thirteen wars, often launched on flimsy pretexts, against nearby alien powers. Once completed, the alien territories were ruthlessly exploited by interstellar corporations – barred from exploiting humans – which tended to provoke revolts (providing other chances for military glory.)
This is not to say that the Federation was an outright military dictatorship. The voters could and did influence policy, although they tended to be heavily conservative. Quite a few Admirals who had overstepped themselves (in the view of Congress) could be recalled, tried and then exiled – if found guilty. Admirals who were not popular knew that their positions were never truly secure. Their jealous fellows challenged their positions at every moment. 200 years after the end of the Long War, the political system had snarled up.
Admiral Sultana’s case is indicative of just what went wrong. Having won a series of smashing victories, she found herself politically marginalised … and unable to reward her clients appropriately, which risked her position when they deserted her. Frustrated, she turned to two allies to break the logjam and bypass the Senate entirely …